Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey

Recommendation: This was a suggestion from someone with an uncanny read on my taste in depressing non-fiction – allow me to pass on the favour

Where to read: This is another hide “under a blanket” read

Read with: T2 “Relax”

In brief: Fergal Keane was a journalist with the BBC in Africa during the Rwandan genocide. Season of Blood tracks his journey into Rwanda to report on the story.


I know I have tagged this as both ‘History’ and ‘Memoir’ but Season of Blood, as the subtitle suggests, is definitely more the latter than the former. That said, it is worth mentioning the overarching historical argument Keane puts forward throughout the narrative. It is uncontentious now that the genocide was a planned extermination campaign rather than a “spontaneous” outburst triggered by the death of President Habyarimana but in 1995, when the book was first published, this was less widely accepted. He clearly has absolutely no time for bullshit claims that the Interahamwe were cultural clubs or that government-sponsored broadcasts calling on Hutus to exterminate the cockroaches weren’t deliberate incitement to commit genocide.

He also goes straight for the organisations and institutions complicit in the massacres, particularly the appallingly evil behaviour of the Church(es). Priests and lay officials participated in the genocide and churches became slaughterhouses, offering sanctuary to terrified Tutsis before handing them over to the militia en masse. The international community refused to use the word “genocide”, UN peacekeepers weren’t given a mandate to intervene and the US, understandably gun-shy after “Black Hawk Down” in Somalia six months before, didn’t intervene. Fearing reprisals from the advancing Tutsi RPF, hundreds of thousands of Hutus fled into neighbouring countries where some humanitarian organisations shielded and protected perpetrators of the genocide.**

As you might expect, this is not an easy read. Keane is trying to make you feel his horror, fear, incomprehension and rage and he’s devastatingly effective. The extracts from his notes at the time are particularly harrowing as you feel the numbness and devastation:

“Begin with the river… The talk goes on like this for several minutes. It is pleasantly distracting. So much so that at first I do not notice them. And then I turn around and for the first time I see two bodies bobbing along. Then three more. They nudge in and out of the grass and the leaves and are carried towards the falls…”

** things were so bad MSF pulled out of the refugee camps in the DRC in 1995

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